Today is World AIDS Day.
Today I have the opportunity to tell you what I know about AIDS, how it’s affected my life. I could tell you stories that would make you cry, but I don’t want to.
I could tell you about the time Kristen told me she had been exposed and was getting tested. I could tell you how Kristen had slept with my very good friend Tom and didn’t tell him she was being tested. I could tell you about the agony I went through debating to tell Tom. But I don’t want to relive that, it’s too painful.
I could tell you about my experience with the AIDS Memorial Quilt and how I spent a day wandering the cold, grey, winter-laden streets of Eau Claire, Wisconsin so moved and dazed that I couldn’t even speak. How I brushed off a rock next to the Chippewa River and sobbed as if my heart would break.
Those are stories for another, darker time. Just reading some of the statistics, viewing the art, remembering how great artists’ lives were cut short by AIDS is enough to make you weep. Today,
I will not add my tears to that river.
Today, well, I am not sure what to do with today. Already I am lost in a world of cloudy memory and a different time.
I am trying to rack my age-addled memory of something funny, positive about the summer I spent working at the Northwest Wisconsin AIDS Project when I was 22. But I can’t seem to grasp a cohesive, illustrative anecdote. The whole summer is coming back to me in fuzzy fragments. I can’t remember all the names. I can remember the faces.
I remember one man, whom for the life of me I want to call John or Greg. He was a balding, short, round man. He had orangey hair and a beard. He terrified me. He was loud, boisterous and intimidating as all get out. One day we ended up putting together some press packets and he spied my shy violet tattoo.
He turned and showed me his bicep. “HIV Positive” was inscribed there with a rainbow flag backdrop. Wow! He then went on to rant about the jackass at windy city tattoos who didn’t want to give him the tattoo. How even with wearing two pairs of gloves and John (or is it Greg?) providing the tattooing tools, the guy wouldn’t do it. So Greg (or is it John?) had to go to the cities to get it done.
I remember Jack (and I swear his name isn’t Jack and that I am getting him confused with Jack from The Joynt) didn’t like me. He believed I had usurped him in NOWAPland. He was the writer. He wrote all the press releases. I was wary of him. Then Jack went to the International AIDS Conference in Tokyo and he came back with gifts for everyone.
It was terrible. I sat at my desk stewing as everyone greeted him. He gave them gifts and regaled them with stories and I stewed. Wondering why he didn’t like me and why he had to make it so damn obvious that he didn’t like me.
As he was walking back to his little area of the building, he spied me.
“Oh Jodi,” he said, “I was wondering where you were.”
Still, I stewed. Did he want to rub it in that not only did he get to go to Tokyo but he brought everyone stuff but me? How cruel could this man be?
“I got this for you,” he said, handing me a button and a box full of Japanese AIDS Education postcards. “When I saw the button, I knew you had to have it. You’re the only person with enough moxie around this place to wear it.
[damnit, I promised myself I wasn’t going to cry when I was writing this. I didn’t want to get lost in a sea of sentimentality and melancholy. I wanted to not be sad. To look back and have warm fuzzies and it’s not working so much.]
He explained to me where he’d picked the button up. There was a Scottish booth all about prostitute education. In fact, the group was called ScotPEP, the Scottish Prostitute Education Program. The buttons says, “Shoot Clean, Fuck Safe, Dance Proud.
I took the button with glee and proudly placed it on the backpack that went everywhere with me. Then Jack asked me if I wanted to come back and look at all the posters he’d brought back.
He liked me, he really liked me!
Nearly 8 years later, that button still hangs on the bulletin board above my desk. When I finally graduated college and stopped carrying around that backpack, I needed to give it a place of honor. So there it hangs, above one of those Japanese postcards, a daily reminder of AIDS and how it’s affected my life.
Today is World AIDS Day and I could tell you what you should do to commemorate, but I won’t. I’ll tell you what I am going to do. I am going to smile and laugh and hug people I love. Because today is World AIDS Day and I am getting to the point where thinking about AIDS and how it’s affected me doesn’t have to stop me dead in my tracks, I don’t have to be sad and spend the day mourning people I cared for. Today, instead of mourning I am going to celebrate life in honor of those who no longer can.